Health and Healthcare Systems

Why longevity literacy is the secret to a prosperous longer life

Longevity literacy empowers individuals to live a healthy and sustainable life with dignity and purpose, while building resilience to address the challenges of an evolving world.

Longevity literacy empowers individuals to live a healthy and sustainable life with dignity and purpose, while building resilience to address the challenges of an evolving world. Image: Unsplash/Dario Valenzuela

Haleh Nazeri
Lead, Longevity Economy, World Economic Forum
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Ageing and Longevity

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • The world's population is living longer than ever before, with global life expectancy rising from 34 years in 1913 to 72 years in 2022.
  • Living longer is not only an achievement to be celebrated, but a chance to improve how society has lived, worked and saved for the past 100 years.
  • The Longevity Economy initiative urges people to focus on quality of life, financial resilience and purpose in an evolving, and ageing, world.

As 2023 begins, there are many global issues that remain uncertain: climate change, geopolitical tensions, and an unpredictable economy, just to name a few. However, there is one phenomena that is occurring with statistical certainty, and most individuals are not preparing for it – living longer.

The world’s population is living longer than ever before. Global life expectancy has risen from 34 years in 1913 to 72 years in 2022 and is expected to continue along that trajectory, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

On average, people have gained an additional 20 years of life expectancy since 1960. To put it another way, society is almost gaining an additional day every week.

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However, instead of celebrating this remarkable achievement, many describe it as a ‘silver tsunami’ or ‘demographic time bomb’. But this unfortunate word play is a dangerous and counterproductive way to frame this significant advancement.

Living longer is not only an achievement to be celebrated, but an opportunity to improve and make advances to the way society has lived, worked, studied and saved for the past 100 years.

Longevity literacy initiative to advance new thinking over living longer

The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Mercer, has been bringing key stakeholders together to advance new thinking in the retirement and longevity ecosystem through an initiative called the Longevity Economy.

This initiative has been focused on helping all individuals navigate this longer life: young and old, in the Global North and South, those with pension plans and especially those who have not begun to think about what saving for a longer life looks like – through the concept of longevity literacy.

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Longevity literacy empowers individuals to live a healthy and sustainable life with dignity and purpose, while building resilience to address the challenges of an evolving world.

Individuals need to focus on three core principles: quality of life, financial resilience and purpose.

Quality of life: Maintaining healthy lifestyles

  • This is the most important pillar of longevity literacy, as people live longer lives, it is crucial that they prioritize their health and quality of life. Nobody wants to live an extra 20 years in poor health.
  • It is crucial that society ensures that individuals healthspan (number of years people stay healthy and disease free) keeps up with their lifespan (total number of years lived). Improvements and innovations are needed globally to invest in the promotion of healthy aging, including improving measurements of health, and scaling interventions proven to promote healthy ageing, according to the McKinsey Health Institute report.

Financial resilience: Financing a sustainable longer life

  • It is never too late – or too early – to start saving for later life. If you work in a company that offers a pension or retirement plan, opt in and take advantage of the employer match.
  • If you are new to retirement and investing, start slowly with spare change apps that allow users to save their change from purchases and invest it.
  • Gig workers have unfortunately been left on their own when it comes to retirement plans. However, some institutions are slowly starting to create products for this very important and growing group of workers. Others could seek the help of free financial advisors that can help them sort their finances.

Purpose: Sustaining community connections and engaging in lifelong learning

  • Lifelong learning is a critical pillar for longevity literacy. Not only will it help people advance their skills and resume while they are working, but it is an excellent way to stay engaged and be part of a community in later life. There are free courses on Coursera and LinkedIn, as well as classes designed specifically for older people from organizations like AARP.
  • Many people who retire early, wind up going back to work because they miss the sense of community and purpose they had while employed. It is critical to maintain community connections later in life, whether through work, places of worship, hobbies or community centres.
  • A recent NY Times article shined a spotlight on how many seniors in the US age alone. Nearly a million Americans over the age of 55 live without a spouse or a partner, or any children or siblings. Since many people who live alone do not get the assistance or support needed, they tend to die sooner.

Framework for a financially resilient and sustainable longer life

These three principles of longevity literacy work together to create a framework to help individuals navigate the path to a financially resilient and sustainable longer life. However, a major shift in how people live, study, work and save is needed to implement these ideas.

Longevity literacy requires a fundamental rethinking of how past generations have lived their lives. Many people expected their early 20s to be the last time they sat in a classroom, while others think a retirement plan is something one does when they are older or when they have more money to invest. Society must let go of this antiquated way of thinking and consider what a 100-year life could look like.

Looking ahead, workers in their 20s should be thinking about longevity literacy as they consider different tactics and methods to save money. Employees in their 40s should be considering how lifelong learning can help them excel at their profession.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing about including older people in the workforce?

While individuals in their 60s could focus on reverse mentoring to guide younger employees in their professional careers while gaining new skills and expanding their network to include an intergenerational component.

Accepting the pillars of longevity literacy and making it a cornerstone of a longer life can improve financial and social outcomes. The tenets are simple: prioritize a healthy lifestyle, save money through a variety of sources, and engage in lifelong learning opportunities and community outreach.

As 2023 begins with many of the same uncertainties from the past year, there is one thing that is certain: humanity is living decades longer than ever before, what would you do with your extra years?

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World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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